No Rest for the Wicked


By Noah Michelson

Have you considered staging The Plague Mass again?
Of course. But I have insisted to everyone that I am not doing it with a fucking tape. I'm doing it with musicians like I did it at St. John the Divine, and I was only paid twice to do it that way. I said, 'Look, you raise the money to see it done right or I'm not going to do it.' That's the problem that always exists with Defixiones, with Schrei X, with Vena Cava [the more elaborate and political works of Gal's's] -- people don't want to pay to stage this kind of work. They only want to pay for the voice and piano work. And I love the doing the voice and piano work, but the problem is I also love doing the other work. First of all the other work frightens people. And it frightens promoters because they think they can't afford it. And it's stupid because people want to see it.

Yeah -- I think people are dying to see it.
They are. Especially in South America, and Spain, and Italy. So what I've done is I've said, 'What are you going to pay for? You're going to pay for the voice and piano? All right.' So now if I perform in Italy and I get audiences of 2,000? Fine. Beautiful. Now I can start saying, 'No. This is what I want to do.' So that's what I've been working at in all my work through Europe -- more than America because America is still a hard nut for me to crack. It's going to take me a lot longer to get through to America. But I try. I do what I can there. But in Europe I've gotten pretty close to the point where I can call a lot of shots and that's why I always say if you're doing work that is not pop music per se, you have to stick around a lot longer to get it done.

People make you pay your dues.
Oh yeah. If you think about composers -- male composers because women composers are never discussed -- male composers would generally not even be recognized until they were in their 50s and 60s. So in a sense I'm in that tradition where a lot of people who have been innovators in music don't even get recognition for a very long time. But then they start to feel alive in a way that they weren't able to before because they get to have their work performed. They get to do their most important work. Let's say before they could only have quartets performed. Or maybe they had to perform their own work like Liszt or Chopin -- they had to perform their own work all the time -- and then they would have orchestras perform the work later on. But for people with new music, it's very hard to get the music performed. And so with me I think it's the same way. It's like, OK, you've seen me on stage breaking my motherfucking ass for you guys all over the world, all these fucking tours, doing a tour that starts in Italy and then you go to fucking Norway and then you back to Spain and then you go to France and then you go to North Carolina -- it's really a hard life. And then at some point some moron says, 'Well, you've been doing this for a long time. Don't you want to take a break?' I look at them and say 'Are you fucking crazy? I'm a Greek woman! This is when we get started, you fucking bitch. Are you out of your mind?' We live for a looooooong time. And in Greece women and men are not even respected until they're older than me as having anything to say. Before that they're told to keep their fucking mouths shut because you don't know anything about life and nobody wants to hear you fucking sing. That's what they're told -- and they're right! [Laughs]

It makes me think of American Idol, where a 16-year-old kid comes along and he or she doesn't really know anything about anything, can barely sing, and then they're handed a record contract.
It's unbelievable. I don't know about American Idol because I haven't seen it -- but I've heard about it. A lot of the pop singers that are already out there -- it's like America has become this pedophilic culture. You see the pop music scene featuring people who don't really sing at all but who just sort of stand there and have everything done on tape and stand looking like little girls.

What about Britney, then?
Oh, I'll always love Britney. My ex-boyfriend used to work with her. He was a mastering engineer and he worked with her back when she first came out. The reason I love Britney Spears -- I don't know if it's Britney I love, I'm not really sure -- but the reason I love her voice so much is that it's not really human. I know a lot about electronic music -- you have a very small vocal signal which is interfaced with a lot of signal processing stuff to tune it -- because she sings out of tune. So you have harmonizers and these different signal processing instruments and by the time they get through with it all the voice is not human. It sounds like a cockroach. And I love that sound because it's so unique. So it sounds like -- [tries to imitate Britney's voice for a second or two]. I can't do it, but it's such a funny little sound that I like it. One of my favorite science fiction films is a film called Squirm and it's kind of the revenge of the radioactive worms in the South -- I don't know where in the South, it could be Alabama. So they took these worms that they had and put through electroshock. They'd put water on them and they shocked them -- and they got the sound of them. It's horrifying. And they interfaced that with some really sleazy analog synthesizers. I like Britney for all the wrong reasons -- I like her because there's a total pedophilic worshipping station there but it sounds like radioactive worms! It doesn't sound like anything else. For example -- the singers who want to sing like Whitney -- they all sound the same. They sound like Whitney -- and Whitney still sounds better than all of them, especially when she's on crack. She still sounds better. But that's me -- I just have a perverted sensibility of voices for my own reasons. I don't like to be bored.

Guilty Guilty Guilty (Caroline Records/Mute Records) is available for purchase at music retailers and iTunes.

Send a letter to the editor about this article.

Tags: Music